Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 11)
July 19, 2009
Text: Mark 6:30-44

Jesus is moved with compassion for His people. He is moved with compassion for His people, for you, for me, because all we, like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one of us, to our own way (Is. 53:6). Jesus is moved with compassion for His people, for you, for me, because we are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus has come to be our Good Shepherd. What is it that a good shepherd does? He gathers the sheep into his sheepfold to protect them and care for them. He feeds his sheep with green pastures and leads them to good, clean water. He protects his sheep from robbers and from wolves. When necessary, a good shepherd is willing to give his very life for his sheep. Jesus is our Good Shepherd.

We see Jesus’ great compassion for His people in the Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus had taken His disciples away to a desolate place to rest awhile and to pray, for they had been ministering to the people for many days. I’ll be the first to tell you that the work of pastoring, shepherding our Lord’s sheep (the word pastor comes from the Latin word for shepherd), is joyous work. But it isn’t easy. Pastors need rest, which is why I’m so thankful you gave me a nice vacation to rest and relax and push the reset button. Even more than rest and relaxation however, pastors need to pray and meditate on God’s Word, and this doesn’t just happen on days off or on vacation. This should be an everyday habit, and in fact, this should be the habit, not just of your pastor, but also of all Jesus’ disciples, including all of you. The disciples needed this kind of rest, rest that included time with Jesus to pray and to meditate on His Word. For they would be His undershepherds, just as modern day pastors are undershepherds of Jesus Christ charged to care for the sheep, holy believers in Christ. The Lord Jesus is your Good Shepherd, and He shepherds you by His Word and Sacraments, administered by His undershepherds, the Christians pastors.

But a shepherd cannot always rest when he wants to. It is Jesus’ compassion for the sheep, lost and helpless, going astray, going their own way, without a shepherd… It is Jesus’ compassion for just such sheep as you and me that moves Him to care for us. It is His great compassion that leads Him to interrupt His rest and the rest of His disciples that they might care for the people in our text. It is His great love for us that leads Him to gather us and tend us and feed us and nurture us, and in fact, to carry us. Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, where He’s not carrying one of the sheep in His arms? You are that sheep in His tender embrace. Jesus has to carry you, because you are wounded and helpless. You are wounded by sin. You are wounded by wandering away from the flock, eating poisonous weeds and drinking the bitter water of false doctrine, being allured further and further away from your Good Shepherd by wolves and robbers, operatives of the devil, who want to gobble you up and send you to hell. You are wounded because you want to go your own way. You are wounded because you think you do not need to listen to your Shepherd’s voice every Sunday, much less every day. You are wounded because you do not think you need to eat what He gives to you. You are wounded because you think that other shepherds have better stuff to give you, or that you would be better off with no shepherd at all. You are wounded by every impure thought, every lustful glance, every covetous desire. You are wounded by your bitterness toward the other sheep. You are wounded, and you are helpless. Sheep are a helpless breed. You cannot free yourself from your lost condition. Jesus must do it. You don’t know the poisonous weeds from the green grass. Jesus must lead you. You cannot shepherd yourself, and you cannot find your Good Shepherd by your own reason or strength. Jesus must call you by the Gospel through His Holy Spirit, gather you into His sheepfold, enlighten you with His gifts, sanctify you and keep you in the one true faith. In His great compassion, Jesus has found you and taken you up into His arms. He carries you and cares for you as one of His own flock. He washes you and feeds you and speaks tenderly to you. In His arms, no wolf or robber can harm you.

In His great compassion, Jesus gathers you into His own flock, which is to say His holy Church. Remember that at one time you were separated from Christ, aliens to the Israel of God, without hope, and without God in the world (Eph. 2:11-12). Remember your lost condition, that it is only by the grace of God in Christ Jesus that you are no longer lost, but found, that you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (v. 13). Jesus has gathered you into His own flock so that now you have access in the Holy Spirit to God your Father (v. 18). Now you are, in Christ Jesus, “saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (vv. 19-20; ESV). You are, in fact, a dwelling place for God (v. 22), and you dwell in Him. Jesus Christ has gathered you here into His Church, His household, His flock, where He may wash you in Baptism, cleansing you of all your sins and making you God’s own child, uniting you to His death and resurrection. He leads you to that good, clean water. He grants you there His Spirit and faith. He strengthens you and gives you power to lead a God-pleasing life. And He doesn’t just leave you there. He teaches you.

Notice that this is what a good shepherd, a pastor, ought to do above all else. What does Jesus do when He sees the crowds on the shore? What does He do when He is moved with compassion because they are as sheep without a shepherd? He begins to teach them many things (Mark 6:34). Jesus shepherds you by teaching you. He teaches you through His Word, and He speaks His Word through the public ministry of the Church, through His undershepherds, His pastors. That includes the sermon. That includes the Scripture readings. That also includes Bible class and Sunday School and Catechism class. You should attend these classes as well, as often as you can, because in them Jesus is speaking to you as your Good Shepherd, teaching you many things, just as He taught the crowds for many hours on the shore. And Jesus isn’t just teaching facts, history, information, in His Word, although that may be included. He’s teaching the very Word of life. He’s teaching Law and Gospel. He’s teaching you about your lost-ness, your condition of sinfulness. He’s teaching you that He is Himself the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him. He’s teaching you that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. He’s teaching you, and in so doing, He’s giving you salvation, He’s forgiving your sins, He’s bespeaking you righteous.

And then He feeds you. Just as He finished teaching the crowds at that late hour on the lakeshore and then, yet again moved with compassion for them, commanded His disciples to feed them. It was a miraculous feeding. The disciples could hardly believe their eyes. Five loaves of bread and two fishes fed 5,000 men, and that’s not including the women and children! All ate and were satisfied. The food Jesus feeds His sheep always satisfies. There is always enough. There is always more than enough. And twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected. “Thou preparest a table before me… my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5; KJV). “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16; ESV). In His compassion, Jesus feeds His sheep. In His compassion, Jesus feeds you. He has prepared a table before you. Your cup runneth over. And of course, I’m not just talking about your daily bread, though He certainly opens His hand and satisfies those desires as well. All that is good comes from God. But I’m talking about that table, the altar. It feeds your body and it feeds your soul. There the Lord has prepared a table above all others, a table that holds His very body and blood.

This is the supreme proof that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. For remember, a good shepherd gives his life in place of his sheep. Jesus Christ gave His life for you. He died for your sins. He suffered and died for your forgiveness. He gave His life that you might live. He did all of this in your place. He suffered the hell that you deserved for going your own way instead of following your shepherd. The Good Shepherd becomes the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sin and mine. He takes it and He nails it in His flesh on the cross. And then He buries it forever along with death and hell. But the grave cannot hold Him. He bursts forth from the tomb. God raises Him from the dead. He is victorious over sin, Satan, and the grave. It is God’s announcement that Christ’s work is sufficient for the salvation of the whole world. It is God’s announcement that because of Christ, all your sins are forgiven. You have been brought near by the blood of Christ. And now the risen Christ has prepared this table before you, the very body given, nailed to the cross, the very blood shed for you, in, with, and under the bread and wine, given for you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. Your Good Shepherd has washed you in Baptism. He teaches you and bespeaks you righteous in His Word. He died for you and is risen for you. And now He feeds you, miraculously, His own body and blood. Because His great compassion, His great love for you, moves Him, compels Him, to do so. Rejoice, dear Christians. You are no longer lost. Jesus has found you. He carries you. And He will continue to carry you, and protect you from Satan and all who would rob you of your faith, until the Day of Resurrection when He will call you, body and soul, forth from the grave. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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